Tide has turned: MIL to sanction surfing

In a move that has been two decades in the making, the Maui Interscholastic League executive board Tuesday approved surfing as an official high school sport. The first official season will take place in April 2014.

Longtime organizer Kim Ball said the MIL is the first league in the nation to designate surfing as an official sport. The vote by the league’s principals was 8-0 in favor, with one abstention in a meeting at the Department of Education building in Kahului.

“This has been a 20-year quest,” Ball said Wednesday. “It’s unbelievable. After lobbying for years – the state Board of Education approved it in 2004 and then they still didn’t allow us to have teams, they made it a club sport.”

A new guard of MIL principals allowed the approval to finally arrive.

“It seemed like every time we got close there were roadblocks put up,” Ball said. “I give credit to the principals and (athletic directors) in the Maui Interscholastic League that they have the foresight to finally approve it. And we are the first league in the nation, a DOE-sanctioned league, to have it. It’s awesome.”

The first season will include two regular-season meets and an MIL championship meet, tentatively scheduled for Hookipa Beach Park on April 26.

It is a dream come true for Ball.

“The concerns for the old guard were the liability and cost and we proved through statistics and insurance companies that insure surfing that the costs are OK,” Ball said. “If all those issues were true, you wouldn’t have any sports at all.”

The MIL may stand alone among the state’s five leagues this academic year. Three leagues must participate in a sport to hold a Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament.

“If the state decides to do it, that’s fine,” Ball said. “Our concern is not that. Our concern is just the MIL. We will have Maui Interscholastic League surf championships. That’s all we care about.

“It did start on Maui, a little swell and grew into a bigger wave. Ian Walsh was at that (2004) BOE meeting there in high school and look at him now.”

Walsh, a King Kekaulike High School graduate, is currently a member of the Association of Surfing Professionals world tour.

Bruce Anderson, the Maui High principal and a surfer himself, voted to approve the sport for the MIL.

“We are proud of that,” Anderson said of the MIL’s first-in-the-nation status for the sport.

Ball has organized the Maui Interscholastic Surf Championships for the last 19 years on a club basis.

“We told Kim he can retire now,” Anderson said. “Without Kim this would never have happened. This is a sport that is not a traditional high school sport.

“We have got to rely on the people who have the expertise in terms of putting on a surf contest, what’s needed for safety – all of the infrastructure that goes along with putting on a contest, so we will rely on Kim Ball and the rest of the surfing community to help us do that.”

Scott Soldwisch, the Lahainaluna athletic director, said that some high school students who do not compete in other sports will now be reached through surfing. To compete, surfers must have a 2.0 grade-point average.

“I think the turnout will be huge, I think it is a great sport that kids who don’t necessarily participate in some of the traditional sports are in the water and surfing or bodyboarding,” Soldwisch said. “I hope we get a big turnout, especially a big turnout on our girls team. A part of offering surfing is hopefully to get more girls to participate in athletics.”

Soldwisch believes that surfing will be adopted by the state’s other leagues.

“Once we do it, the momentum is going to be so big they won’t be able to not do it anymore,” he said. “A lot of eyes will be on MIL surfing to decide if they are going to join in.”

Ball said that boys and girls champions will be crowned in bodyboard and shortboard classes, and team titles will also be decided.

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com